One evening Helena hands me a sheet of paper. A drawing of a little girl, tears flying in all directions. The caption: I feel lonely and sad.
I flip the page over. It's just a sheet from the stack of paper, old printouts, set aside for recycling. But this is different. It's an excerpt from Sylvia Plath (her journals, material I'd collected for a literary salon). And Helena has crossed out almost all of the words.
...What is my life for and what am I going to do with it? I don't know and I'm afraid. I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited. Yet I am not a cretin: Lame, blind and stupid. I am not a veteran, passing my legless, armless days in a wheelchair. I am not that mongoloidish old man shuffling out of the gates of the mental hospital. I have much to live for, yet unaccountablyI am sick and sad. Perhaps you could trace my feeling back to my distant at having to choose between alternative. Perhaps that's why I want to be everyone – so no one can blame me for being I. So I won't have to take the responsibility for my own character development and philosophy. People are happy - - - if that means being content with your lot: feeling comfortable as the complacent round peg struggling in a round hole, with not awkward or painful edges – no spaces to wonder or question in. I am not content, because my lot is limiting, as are all others. People specialize; people become devoted to an idea; people "find themselves." But the very content that comes from finding yourself is overshadowed by the knowledge that by doing so you are admitting you are not only a grotesques, but a special kind of grotesque.
— from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. Entry #46, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts (first year);
Journal July 1950 – July 1953.
I am momentarily freaked out, in a desperate, hysterical kind of way (on the inside).
But I choose now to see this exercise as evidence that my daughter knows the power of words, and knows also the power they have over me. Words as a means of expression. Words for effect.
And it's a lesson to remember that my daughter — smart and easy-going, a tough cookie and a good egg — is always a sensitive soul.